Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. Literally it means “fear of 3 plus 10” and millions of people suffer from it. The cost of this fear is over a billion dollars a year due to absenteeism, train and plain cancellations, and reduced commerce. Many buildings lack a 13th floor, which I find hilarious as if the official number-label we give the floor somehow stops it from being, indeed, the 13th floor. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and a thorn by any other name will still prick your finger. Since today is Friday, the thirteenth, it seemed to me to be a good idea to investigate the origins of this fear. The specific term for fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. This fear is sort of sad because using the Gregorian calendar, the 13th falls on Friday more than any other day of the week.
There are tons of unlucky 13s everywhere. It is easy to get stuck in the chicken and egg argument here. For example, there are 13 steps, traditionally, to a gallows. But is 13 unlucky because there are 13 steps to the gallows, or did people make 13 steps to the gallows because 13 is unlucky? So I think we have to discount some of the 13 stories we hear, because the 13s involved are inserted by people because of the phobia. I think it likely that this is the reason there are 13 in a witch’s coven and that the 13th card in a tarot deck is death (which does not necessarily bode evil, mind you).
Most people associate the fear of 13 to Jesus and his disciples. There were 13 present at the last supper, Jesus and his 12 homies. Jesus was also crucified on a Friday, according to tradition (although this cannot be true if the biblical accounts were correct. He was either died on a Thursday, or rose on a Monday if you believe the bible, because he was in the tomb for three days. If he died on Friday and rose on Sunday, that is only two days.). This makes Friday the 13th particularly unlucky.
However, the fear of 13 goes back before Christianity and exists outside of Christian cultures. The Norse may have originated the fear of 13 in their mythology. According to the story the Aenir invited 12 gods to Valhalla. The 13th guest, Loki, god of evil and mischief, showed up uninvited. Now this was after Loki had engineered the death of the beloved god of light Baldur and he was most unwelcome. Loki started to taunt the gods and good old Thor finally had enough and they gave him chase. Odin caught Loki (there is much more to the story –you should read it sometime) after Loki’s attempt at escape by becoming a fish and bound him and put him under the mountains with a serpent above him. Every time the serpent drips venom on Loki he screams and shudders and causes the ground to tremble. So Loki, the 13th guest, brings evil into the world and causes earthquakes.
The ancient Romans had a fear of the number 13. Since there were 12 hours in a day (a Roman day) and 12 months in a year, 13 was seen as a violation of the natural cycle. For the Egyptians, 13 represented the final rung of the ladder that led the soul to eternity. The Turks feared the number 13 and expunged it from their vocabulary. The superstition over the number may have come from the Babylonians who, when holding religious feasts, would select 13 people to represent the gods. At the end of the feast the last chosen, the 13th, would be killed. It was a very unlucky number for THAT person indeed.
People are always happy to point out the unlucky instances of 13, such as Apollo 13. However, you could look at that plagued mission as they were lucky to get home. Certainly when a child reaches 13, they officially become a teenager and that IS unlucky for the parents. However some cultures do not place any great importance to that number. Chinese and Jewish lunar calendars must have the periodic 13 month year in order to match with the seasons.
The 13th president of the United States was Millard Filmore who ascended to the presidency after the untimely death of the 12th (note–not the 13th) President Taylor. During Filmore’s term in office, California was admitted to the union (no–that wasn’t unlucky!), the border with Texas was finally settled, and slavery was outlawed within the District of Columbia. Fillmore was also the first president to equip the White House with a bathtub. So we can’t say that 13 was unlucky for Fillmore or The United States. And let’s face it, the United States started out as 13 colonies. How bad could the number be?
A one-dollar federal reserve note, otherwise known as the dollar bill, has a plethora of 13s. There are 13 levels to the little pyramid with the eye over it. There are 13 leaves on the olive branch held by the eagle. The eagle is also holding 13 arrows. There are 13 stripes on the shield in front of the eagle. There are 13 stars above the eagle. The motto: E Pluribus Unum, (one out of many) contains 13 letters. If you count the Latin word, unum, “one” appears 13 times on the note. So, if you find 13 to be unlucky, you will probably want to shed yourself of this abundance of 13s. I will be more than happy to take them off your hands.